ACC: Duke Blue Devils

ACC morning links

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
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With national signing day closing in, it is hard not to be impressed with the efforts ACC schools have made across the board.

At last check, eight schools are ranked in the ESPN Recruiting Nation Top 40 class rankings. Duke, featured at N0. 39, is poised to sign David Cutcliffe's best class. NC State and Louisville are putting together strong classes, along with usual Top 25 suspects Florida State, Clemson, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson is doing work, too. Though the Deacs are not in the rankings, Clawson is quietly putting together a solid class. ESPN 300 prospect Bowman Archibald spurned Miami despite signing a financial aid agreement with the school in August. As he explained when he switched his commitment last September, his on-campus visit impressed him. He is already enrolled at Wake Forest (though he just had surgery for a broken leg).

Another four-star prospect, quarterback Kyle Kearns out of California, committed over the weekend. Then Tuesday, the Deacs scored another big commitment from running back Rocky Reid, a former Tennessee commit.

All three committed after taking official visits. Perhaps that is not a coincidence.



It also should not go unnoticed that Wake Forest has flipped players once committed to schools like Miami and Tennessee. The Deacs can clearly sell early playing time to a player like Reid, who joins a running back group in search of a standout. There also is no depth behind quarterback John Wolford, so coming to Wake to play quarterback should be appealing -- especially if Clawson's past history is taken into consideration.

Though Wake Forest went 3-9, this is a team that improved throughout the course of the season, that played with heart, energy and passion and never quit. Clawson has gotten the players on his roster to believe. Now he is getting recruits to believe as well.

More around the ACC:
Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week we’re taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

Duke Blue Devils

Position to improve: Defensive line.

Why it was a problem: Duke has to work harder than most every other school in the ACC at getting big guys up front who can blow their opponents off the ball. Run defense continues to be an issue for the Blue Devils, who took a step back in this category in 2014. Duke ranked No. 13 in the ACC and No. 92 in the nation in rush defense, giving up an average of 192.9 yards per game. Six times opponents rushed for over 200 yards; twice for over 300 yards. As a related stat, Duke did step up its sack production (29) but ranked No. 107 in the nation in tackles for loss, with only 4.7 per game. Its starting defensive linemen combined for just 20. That stat in particular shows the Blue Devils had a tough time getting into the opposition's backfield to make some plays. Duke had three new starters up front in 2014, so a transition period was to be expected. Still, this is an area Duke would love to see improved moving forward.

How it can be fixed: Duke needs to find and establish some rush ends who can help wreak havoc in the backfield, both on the passer and opposing ball carrier. Stability on the interior of the line is key, too. What will be interesting to see is the direction coach David Cutcliffe goes in hiring a defensive line coach after Rick Petri left following four seasons on the job. Might not be a bad idea to start fresh here.

Early 2015 outlook: Duke loses another three starters from its defensive line, with defensive tackle Carlos Wray the lone returner in the group. The Blue Devils are especially thin at defensive end, with seniors Kyler Brown and Britton Grier the lone returners among the top five players on the two-deep from 2014. Returning tackles A.J. Wolf and Mike Ramsay will be expected to step up. There are two redshirt freshmen to keep an eye on as well: Edgar Cerenord and Quaven Ferguson.
The talent across the ACC was plainly evident this past season, so it comes as no surprise that multiple players have made a major impression this week during Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Alabama.

Among those drawing the most praise: Duke teammates Jamison Crowder and Laken Tomlinson, Pitt offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings, Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony and all four Miami players represented: tight end Clive Walford, receiver Phillip Dorsett, linebacker Denzel Perryman and cornerback Ladarius Gunter. Phil Savage, executive director of the Senior Bowl, tweeted out practice award winners for the week Friday morning. Tomlinson, Anthony and Dorsett were honored.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay wrote this week that Dorsett's stock is on the rise, and he helped himself more than any other prospect during the week. His track speed has wowed scouts across the board. As McShay writes:
What stands out with Dorsett is that he has under-control speed. Some guys are burners in a straight line but can't gear down or get in and out of breaks under control enough to catch the ball. That isn't the case with Dorsett, who possesses every quality you want in a deep speed threat.

During the East-West Shrine game last week, former Miami defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo also turned heads. In all, five Miami players have made headlines in the last week for their play, leaving many once again to wonder how the Canes went 6-7 with so much talent. Add in running back Duke Johnson and offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, and the potential exists for at least seven players off this team to get drafted.

Dorsett told ESPN.com Miami Dolphins reporter James Walker, “A lot of things didn’t go our way last year. I can say that,” Dorsett said. “A lot of things went the wrong way. We just got to get guys to really buy in. It’s not on the coaches, it’s on the players. Coaches coach and players got to go out there and play. That’s all I can really say about it.”

Earlier in the week, NFL Network expert Mike Mayock said Tomlinson and Crowder were the players of the day. The Chicago Sun-Times had a good profile detailing the friendship between Tomlinson and high school teammate Louis Trinca-Pasat, both at the Senior Bowl.

Two more who also have had a good week: Al.com notes Lorenzo Mauldin of Louisville made an impression, and Clemson defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has made some plays despite his size being scrutinized.

Charles Davis of NFL Network said of Stephone Anthony, "He's a big-time player. Not many people around the country know enough about him."

Elsewhere around the ACC:
  • Boston College offensive coordinator Ryan Day has been hired as the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterbacks coach.
  • Florida State has reportedly hired former Florida assistant Brad Lawing to replace departed defensive line coach Sal Sunseri, who is off to the Raiders.
  • Louisville will host six players on official visits this weekend.
  • Two former North Carolina student-athletes, including football player Devon Ramsey, have sued the university and NCAA over the long-running academic fraud scandal that involved the athletic department.
  • NC State coach Dave Doeren discusses the progress his program has made since he arrived.
  • Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi picked up his third commitment in two days.
  • Virginia Tech unveiled its plans to cover cost of attendance with the Pylons of Promise.
We’re winding down our list of the ACC’s top 25 players from 2014. To view the previous entries, click here. Now, on to Nos. 6 through 10.

6. Rashad Greene, Florida State

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

There’s never been any question about Greene’s talent, but in 2014 he firmly established himself as one of the great leaders in FSU history. Surrounded by an inexperienced group of receivers, Greene stepped up to become one of the most consistent targets in the nation and caught 99 passes for 1,365 yards -- with numerous game-changing plays along the way. His 74-yard touchdown against Clemson preserved FSU’s win streak, and he finished with double-digit receptions in three games and topped 100 yards receiving eight times. Greene wrapped up his career as FSU’s leading receiver in each of his four seasons.

7. Grady Jarrett, Clemson

Position: Defensive tackle

Year: Senior

Jarrett was the vocal leader of Clemson’s dynamic defensive front, and few tackles in the country made a bigger impact on a week-to-week basis than he did. His 45 tackles paced all Clemson defensive linemen, and his 10 tackles for loss were the most by an ACC interior lineman. Jarrett was a key cog in the nation’s fifth-ranked rushing defense, and he helped solidify the middle for a unit that racked up 254 tackles for loss over the past two seasons.

8. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech

Position: Quarterback

Year: Sophomore

Entering the season, fans were beginning to wonder if Paul Johnson’s option offense had run its course at Georgia Tech. Then Thomas was added to the fray, and everything changed. The sophomore proved a perfect fit for Johnson’s scheme and threw for 1,719 yards and 18 touchdowns while becoming just the second Tech QB in the past decade to top 1,000 yards on the ground. Thomas is one of just 13 Power 5 QBs in the past decade to top both benchmarks in a single season. Thomas helped Georgia Tech become the nation’s most prolific rushing offense and led the Yellow Jackets to an 11-3 season, a Coastal Division title and a win in the Capital One Orange Bowl.

9. DeVante Parker, Louisville

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

How do you make a case for a player who missed the first seven games of the year to rank in the top 10? With Parker, it’s actually pretty easy. A foot injury during fall camp sidelined Parker early, but the Cardinals’ receiver debuted Oct. 18 against NC State with nine catches for 132 yards, and he never slowed down. In his six games this season, he topped 120 yards five times, including a 214-yard performance against Florida State. Despite missing half the season, Parker finished seventh in the ACC in receiving yards, and among Power 5 receivers with at least 40 catches, none averaged more yards per reception than Parker, at 19.9.

10. Jamison Crowder, Duke

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

Crowder finished with 1,000 receiving yards for the third straight season, after turning in his fourth 100-yard game of the year in Duke’s bowl game against Arizona State. One of the ACC’s most consistent receiving threats in each of the past three seasons, Crowder was an all-purpose star who finished third in the ACC in receiving yards, second in receptions, first in punt-return yardage and sixth in all-purpose yards. Also, he was the only ACC player with multiple special-teams touchdowns this season.
Because it's never too early to start making bold predictions about the 2015 season, Athlon put together its list of 10 potential breakout players for the upcoming season, and it includes two budding stars in the ACC.

The first is Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, which should be something of a no-brainer, given that the junior racked up 21.5 tackles for loss in the past two seasons despite serving as the backup to Vic Beasley. Only seven other players in the ACC have totaled 10 or more TFL in each of the last two seasons, and of that group, only Lawson will be back for 2015.

“A guy like Shaq Lawson, he could've been starting his first two years, but he sat behind Vic Beasley and you can't complain about that,” defensive back Robert Smith said. “But he could've just as easily been starting the same way.”

Lawson is an obvious starter this year, but the Post & Courier projects out the rest of Clemson's starters, too.

The second of Athlon's breakout candidates is Travis Rudolph, the FSU wide receiver who stepped up as a strong No. 2 option after Rashad Greene as a true freshman this season, including six catches for 96 yards and a score in the Rose Bowl.

Rudolph definitely progressed as the year went along -- he had just one catch in FSU's first four games -- but he's going to have a tougher task in 2015. Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary are gone, meaning all eyes will clearly be on Rudolph to step into the No. 1 role in the passing game. Jameis Winston is gone, too, and the question about the next FSU QB is a big one. Still, Rudolph showed how much talent he has this season, and he's on record as being eager to follow in Greene's footsteps.

Looking around the rest of the ACC, a few other names to watch as potential breakout candidates:

Andrew Brown, Virginia: Injuries limited his freshman performance, but the Hoos will have a new-look defensive line in 2015, and Brown, the former five-star recruit, will be a big part of their plans.

Shaun Wilson, Duke: The ACC already got a small taste of what Wilson can do, as he rushed for 598 yards as a freshman in 2014. His 7.7 yards-per-carry average was the best by any Power 5 running back with at least 75 carries, but his numbers in conference -- 46 carries, 186 yards, 1 TD -- weren't quite as impressive. He'll have a bigger role in 2015.

Josh Jones, NC State: The redshirt freshman started the final five games of the year at strong safety for the Wolfpack, and that happened to coincide with a 4-1 finish to the season in which NC State allowed just 4.68 yards per play -- the seventh-best rate for any Power 5 team from Nov. 1 to the end of the season.

Joseph Yearby, Miami: The freshman had more than 600 yards from scrimmage backing up Duke Johnson in 2014. Now Johnson is gone, but rising star QB Brad Kaaya remains, and Miami's offense hopes to not miss a beat. It could be a huge year for Yearby, who played his high school ball alongside FSU's Dalvin Cook.

A few other links:

Final Top 25: Who missed the cut

January, 20, 2015
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Our ACC Top 25 player countdown for the 2014 season has begun. As somebody who has helped put these lists together for three years now, this may have been the toughest ranking to do. The proof is there -- we had a tie in the rankings from 21-25 -- and were forced to leave off several deserving candidates.

So who just missed the cut? Consider these the honorable mentions in the ACC postseason Top 25.

Tre' Jackson, OG, Florida State. This was probably a tougher omission than P.J. Williams because Jackson was among the best guards in the entire country. The ACC has three All-Americans at this position. We chose the two who were on better offensive lines.

P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State. His omission might raise some eyebrows, but the truth is he was not the best player in his own secondary -- a group that did not live up to lofty preseason expectations. Williams finished with just one interception and 11 passes defended.

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson. Williams finished with 1,030 yards receiving and six touchdowns, averaging 18.1 yards per catch (fourth-best in the ACC). The other three 1,000-yard receivers made the Top 25. He should have a spot in the 2015 preseason Top 25. Same goes for teammate Artavis Scott, who ended with 965 yards receiving and eight touchdowns.

Roberto Aguayo, PK, Florida State. Even though Aguayo did not win the Lou Groza Award, he still is the most valuable kicker in the entire nation, having scored 136 points this season to rank No. 2 in the ACC. But he did miss three kicks this year so that kept him off the Top 25.

Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami. Kaaya blossomed as the season went on and is sure to have a spot on this list when the 2015 preseason Top 25 makes its debut in the summer. Kaaya finished first in the ACC in pass efficiency (145.9), passing yards per completion (14.5) and second in passing yards (3,198).

DeVon Edwards, DB/AP, Duke: Edwards provided tremendous value to the Duke defense and on special teams, finishing second on the team with 133 tackles, tied for second with 4.5 sacks, while leading the team with 10 passes defended. He also ranked fourth in the ACC in kickoff return average and returned one for a score.

Synjyn Days, BB, Georgia Tech. When Days got his opportunity midway through the season, he took full advantage. He ended up with 924 yards rushing and nine touchdowns -- 835 yards and eight of those touchdowns came in the final seven games of the season.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. Watson showed flashes of brilliance when he was on the field. But the problem was he wasn't on the field nearly enough to make the Top 25. He's almost a lock to be a top-5 preseason pick in 2015.
Now that the season is over, it is time to rank the top 25 players in the ACC based on 2014 performance. Needless to say, we had tough choices to make -- so tough, in fact, that we could not break a tie between two exceptional offensive guards. So there are in fact 26 players on our top-25 list, and we are just fine with that decision.

What went into the ranking? In addition to performance this season, we also took into account each of the players' value to their team, value at their respective position and game-changing ability. With that, here is a look at players Nos. 21-25 (plus No. 26).

21. Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State

Position: defensive end

Year: junior

Edwards was dominant at times but also lacked the consistency many were hoping to see out of him in his second year as a starter. Weight continued to be a problem. When he was on, he was effective, racking up 44 tackles -- 11 for loss -- and three sacks this season. But against Oregon, he was essentially a nonfactor. Cherry on top for being one of the best quotes in the ACC this season, though!

22. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech

Position: cornerback

Year: sophomore

Fuller was the best cornerback in the ACC -- and he won that designation despite playing the entire season with a broken wrist. Coming off a successful freshman campaign, Fuller finished tied for first in the ACC with 17 passes defended (15 breakups, two interceptions), while earning All-ACC honors and second-team All-America honors from the Walter Camp Foundation and Football Writers Association of America.

T-23. Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech AND Laken Tomlinson, Duke

Position: offensive guards

Year: seniors

The ACC had All-American play at offensive guard this season -- Tre Jackson at Florida State also deserves mention -- so we are making an exception here and going with a tie between two of them because they are both equally deserving of recognition. Mason helped pave the way for a Georgia Tech rushing offense that led the nation with 342.1 yards per carry, the best average in the Paul Johnson era. Meanwhile, Tomlinson was a consensus All-American and first-team All-ACC selection after helping Duke average 180-plus rushing yards and 210-plus passing yards for the first time in school history.

25. Jeremy Cash, Duke

Position: safety

Year: junior

Cash was an impressive force in the defensive backfield once again for the Blue Devils, racking up more than 100 tackles for a second straight season. In fact, Cash was the only defensive back in the nation to record 100-plus tackles, 10 or more tackles for loss and five or more sacks. He also forced four fumbles on the season, tied for the second most in the ACC. With the news that Cash is returning for his senior season, expect his name to be on this list again come 2015.

26. Tyler Murphy, Boston College

Position: quarterback

Year: senior

Murphy was the engine that made the BC offense go, and he set a host of records in the process. His 1,184 yards on the ground set a new ACC and school record for rushing yards by a quarterback, and he ranked second among all quarterbacks in yards rushing. Murphy accounted for 56 percent of the Eagles' total offense in 2014 and had five 100-yard games. The highlight, of course, was his MVP performance in a 37-31 upset win over USC in September, in which Murphy ran for 191 yards and a score, averaging 14.7 yards per carry.

ACC morning links

January, 19, 2015
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There was no big mystery about what would happen when the first autonomous legislation passed at the NCAA convention over the weekend.

Full cost-of-attendance was first on the docket, and it easily passed. But it was not a unanimous vote. One school voted against adding the stipend: Boston College.

Rather than go with the flock, the university decided to take a stand, worried that the increased financial burdens to athletic departments everywhere could mean devastating consequences for non-revenue sports. In a statement released Saturday night, the university said:
Boston College is concerned with continuing to pass legislation that increases expenses when the vast majority of schools are already institutionally subsidized. The consequence of such legislation could ultimately hurt student-athletes if/when programs are cut.

This legislation further segregates student-athletes from the general student population by increasing aid without need-based consideration. Legislation already exists for student-athletes in need through pell grants and the student-assistance fund.

We have concerns that the Federal Financial aid formula is sufficiently ambiguous that adjustments for recruiting advantage will take place.

Indeed, this is one of the many unanswered questions that remain now that autonomy is here: How will many cash-strapped athletic departments begin to pay for all the bells and whistles only the few can afford, simply because they want to keep pace? Everybody can agree that cost of attendance is a worthy cause, but nobody really has any idea what the financial consequences will be down the road.

A student-athlete at Boston College receives a roughly $250,000 education in four years' time, higher than most schools this legislation will impact. As colleague Mitch Sherman points out:
Boston is an expensive place to attend school, equating to a stipend for student-athletes at BC that will exceed the still-undetermined average. Without a football program awash in money, Boston College must dig deep to keep pace with its rivals -- or consider other ways to save money, perhaps including the elimination of non-revenue sports.

Now there exists a potential consequence to autonomy that fails to mesh with the mission of the NCAA. And if it's a problem at Boston College, which gets a piece of the ACC pie, imagine the trouble brewing at smaller colleges.

It was a big recruiting weekend across college football. Here are a few updates in the ACC:
In other ACC news:
  • Duke lost its defensive line coach, while Virginia Tech lost its receivers coach.
  • Several ACC players stood out at the East-West Shrine Game, including former Miami defensive end Anthony Chickillo, Louisville running back Dominique Brown and offensive lineman John Miller and NC State kicker Niklas Sade.
  • Senior Bowl practices get underway this week, and Shaq Mason and T.J. Clemmings are two players to watch. Meanwhile, Tre' Jackson appears to be the only Florida State player who will participate in the Senior Bowl after Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary, Cameron Erving and Josue Matias all dropped out.
  • Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette takes a look at the legacy former athletic director Steve Pederson leaves behind.
It may seem counterintuitive to open spring practice in the depths of winter, but Duke coach David Cutcliffe believes he has found a formula that works for his Blue Devils.

For the second straight year, Duke will open spring ball in early February, hitting the field well before its counterparts. The idea came to him after the 2013 season, when his players clamored to return to practice as quickly as they could following a history-making season that featured 10 wins and a premier bowl slot in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Texas A&M.

[+] EnlargeDuke's David Cutcliffe
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesDuke coach David Cutcliffe liked the results from opening spring practice in early February last year that the Blue Devils are doing it again.
“It was the best spring that I’ve been around,” Cutcliffe said in a recent phone interview. “Our players loved it. Our strength staff loved it. Our medical staff loved it. Our team playing in bowl games every year now, there’s still carry over. We don’t have to restart everything in April. We can step right into it.

“And recruiting has changed, where we’re making final decisions on people in April and March. Now we know what our squad looks like, what our needs are and the direction we want to go, and we spend more time in the recruiting process after spring practice as a staff. We’re working five days a week on recruiting, which is great.”

Cutcliffe also said he got one more bonus after taking a look at his team last February.

“I came off the field the first day of spring practice last year and told our staff, ‘We’re going to have a really good football team, guys,’” Cutcliffe said. “I hope I feel the same way this year.”

When Duke does take the field Feb. 6, there will be major questions that have to be answered, most especially on offense. How do the Blue Devils replace starting quarterback Anthony Boone, All-ACC receiver Jamison Crowder and All-American guard Laken Tomlinson?

Cutcliffe said Duke will open the spring with Thomas Sirk as the starter at quarterback, though Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre will get their share of reps. The trio has combined for zero career starts, so Duke has gone from having the most experienced quarterback in the ACC to the least experienced in the span of a few months.

“This is the most athletic, fastest group of quarterbacks we’ve had,” Cutcliffe said. “Extremely strong arms. The only thing they don’t have is a bunch of experience, but Thomas won a game for us at Pitt running the football, so he’s been in games where it mattered. But at some point in any program, you’re going to be playing somewhat experienced quarterbacks. What you hope you’re doing is playing with talented, inexperienced quarterbacks -- and these guys happen to be multi-talented.”

Maybe more important is finding production to rival what Crowder did during his Duke career. He finished his career tied for the ACC and Duke career reception records (283) and ranks No. 3 on the ACC career receiving yards list (3,641) after closing with three straight 1,000-yard seasons.

Duke does have receiver depth, but nobody proven as a go-to player. Johnell Barnes, Terrence Alls, Anthony Nash and Max McCaffrey will be expected to step up. Cutcliffe also wants to see how redshirt freshmen Trevon Lee and Chris Taylor do in the spring. The potential also exists for ESPN 300 receiver Keyston Fuller to make an impact, provided he signs in February.

Beyond receiver, Duke should be set at tight end with the return of Braxton Deaver and at running back, where the Blue Devils have plenty of depth. Jela Duncan is back in class after being academically ineligible last season. He joins a group that returns Shaquille Powell, Shaun Wilson and Joe Ajeigbe.

Defensively, Duke will welcome back Kelby Brown, who is on track to return for fall practice after a third ACL injury. Plus, Jeremy Cash anchors a secondary that brings all its starters back.

“We have to prove ourselves, but I feel very good about our team,” Cutcliffe said. “I really do.”

He might feel even better about it come Feb. 6.

ACC all-bowl team

January, 16, 2015
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It wasn’t the finest bowl season for the ACC, which won just four games, but there were still some strong performances. Here’s our 2014-15 all-bowl team for the ACC.

OFFENSE

QB: Justin Thomas (Georgia Tech)

Thomas thoroughly dominated the Mississippi State defense in the Orange Bowl, accounting for 246 yards of offense and four touchdowns. Credit. though, to Clemson’s Cole Stoudt, who was pressed into action with Deshaun Watson out with injury and threw for 319 yards with four total touchdowns, too.

[+] EnlargeSynjyn Days
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsSynjyn Days scored three of Georgia Tech's seven touchdowns against Mississippi State.
RB: Synjyn Days (Georgia Tech)

His 171 yards on the ground led all ACC runners during bowl season to cap off an extraordinary second half of the year for Days. He scored three times on the ground versus Mississippi State, as the Bulldogs never stood a chance against Georgia Tech’s dominant rushing attack.

RB: J.C. Coleman (Virginia Tech)

The running game was a problem all year for Virginia Tech, but once the Hokies were down to their fourth option at tailback, things got figured out. Coleman finished up a strong final four games with his best performance of the year, carrying 25 times for 157 yards and a touchdown in Tech’s win over Cincinnati.

WR: DeVante Parker (Louisville)

Louisville’s quarterback play was dreadful against Georgia in the Belk Bowl, and it cost the Cardinals a chance to win. But Parker, as usual, was excellent. He had eight catches, six of which went for first downs, and he led all ACC receivers with 120 yards. He also had one of the most impressive touchdown grabs of the season called back because he stepped out of bounds before the catch.

WR: Mike Williams (Clemson)

There’s plenty of competition for the second receiver spot, with six players chiming in with between 96 and 114 yards through the air during bowl season, but we’ll give Williams the slight nod. He had nine catches (tied for most in the ACC) for 112 yards and a touchdown, and six of his catches went for first downs.

TE: Jack Tabb (North Carolina)

It wasn’t a sterling season for tight ends in the bowl games despite so many fine performances during the regular season. Still, Tabb hauled in five catches for 51 yards and a score, which easily set the pace at the position.

OL: T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh)

Pitt’s defense couldn’t hold a big lead in its bowl game against Houston, but no blame goes to the offensive line, which was strong. Pitt ran for 227 yards and three touchdowns and allowed just one sack on 37 attempts, with Clemmings grading out once again as the Panthers’ top blocker.

OL: Shaq Mason (Georgia Tech)

Georgia Tech ran for 52 more yards than any other team during bowl season. Credit goes to the entire offense for the strong performance, but there’s no question Mason has been the on- and off-field leader of the offensive line all season.

OL: Joe Thuney (NC State)

NC State’s 3.82 yards-per-carry average wasn’t great, but the ground-and-pound approach against UCF did the trick. The Wolfpack scored twice on the ground and had eight runs of 10 yards or more, with Thuney grading out as their top performer.

OL: Tre Jackson (Florida State)

It’s easy to dismiss Florida State’s Rose Bowl performance, but the offensive line had nothing to do with the five turnovers the offense coughed up. In fact, Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams were cruising through a stellar outing thanks to the blocking of Jackson and his linemates before the bottom fell out.

C: Andy Gallik (Boston College)

The Eagles’ problems with PATs haunted them again in bowl season, but the ground game that paced the offense all season was once again terrific. BC ran for 285 yards and two scores against a Penn State defense that had been among the best in the nation against the run. Ample credit to the whole group, but Gallik has been a star all season.

DEFENSE

DE: Tyriq McCord (Miami)

McCord had five tackles, including one sack, in the loss to South Carolina, and while his secondary couldn’t cover Pharoh Cooper, the Hurricanes’ front did manage to keep the Gamecocks’ powerful ground game in check, holding Mike Davis to just 55 yards.

[+] EnlargeGrady Jarrett
AP Photo/John RaouxGrady Jarrett's performance in the Russell Athletic Bowl helped Clemson limit the Sooners to just six points.
DT: Grady Jarrett (Clemson)

Perhaps the ACC’s best defensive player during bowl season, Jarrett was a beast in thwarting Oklahoma’s high-octane offense. Jarrett had 3.5 tackles for loss, one quarterback hurry and a forced fumble as Clemson dominated the Sooners’ through the first 3½ quarters of action.

DE: Vic Beasley (Clemson)

Beasley’s early sack against Trevor Knight was a harbinger of a long day to come for the Oklahoma quarterback, who mustered just 2.8 yards per attempt in the game. Beasley was at the heart of the pass rush, tallying five tackles, including three for a loss.

LB: Rodman Noel (NC State)

Led NC State’s defense with eight tackles, including two for a loss, and helped hold UCF to just 2.9 yards per carry on the ground and disrupting the Knights’ passing game throughout. UCF quarterback Justin Holman completed just 43 percent of his throws.

LB: Ben Boulware (Clemson)

Boulware had five tackles and a fumble recovery in the win over Oklahoma, but it was his 47-yard interception return for a touchdown to give Clemson a 17-0 lead late in the first quarter that made the biggest impact.

LB: P.J. Davis (Georgia Tech)

Davis led all players in the Orange Bowl with 11 tackles, and while Mississippi State’s offense did manage to move the ball to the tune of 605 yards, the game was never particularly close because Davis helped prevent big plays -- just three of 20 yards or more through the first three quarters -- and held Dak Prescott to just 4-of-10 passing on third down.

LB: Deon Clark (Virginia Tech)

Clark led all Virginia Tech defenders with 11 total tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble, as the Hokies thwarted Cincinnati’s high-flying offense in the Military Bowl.

S: DeVon Edwards (Duke)

The Blue Devils’ defense was hardly great against Arizona State, but Edwards did lead the pack with 14 tackles, including one for a loss, a forced fumble and a sack.

S: Chris Milton (Georgia Tech)

Milton’s eight tackles and support against the run were crucial for Georgia Tech’s defense against Mississippi State, but his interception on Prescott’s second throw of the game set the tone for a dominant Yellow Jackets win.

CB: Jack Tocho (NC State)

While NC State’s defensive front tormented the UCF passing game, the defensive backs did their part, too. Tocho had three tackles and two pass breakups, while UCF’s passing game mustered just 4.85 yards per attempt through the first three quarters as the Wolfpack built a 31-13 lead.

CB: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)

Fuller had four tackles, broke up a pass and had and an interception against Cincinnati, as quarterback Gunner Kiel, one of the nation’s most dangerous passers, completed just 14 of 26 throws.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Bradley Pinion (Clemson)

Pinion’s net punting average against Oklahoma was 43.4 yards -- just one-tenth of a yard shy of tops in the conference. He had two punts downed inside the 10, and none of his five boots were returned.

K: Joey Slye (Virginia Tech)

Slye connected on all four field goal attempts, including two outside of 40 yards, and was 3-of-3 on PATs in Virginia Tech’s win over Cincinnati.

KR/PR: Jamison Crowder (Duke)

Crowder has been a star on special teams for much of his career, and he ended it on a high note by returning a punt 68 yards for a touchdown against Arizona State -- his second of the season. He accounted for 66 percent of all the punt returns in the ACC in 2014.
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft has passed. Now let's take a quick look at the biggest draft deadline winners and losers across the ACC:

Winners

Clemson: The Tigers did lose an underclassman: punter Bradley Pinion. Head-scratching, yes. But the reason the Tigers are winners this year is that they held on to all their top offensive talent. While nobody was in position to declare early, it still is notable that this is the first time Clemson has not had an underclassman on offense turn pro since 2010. That could very well change once these freshmen start growing up, but for now, it is good to be co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott.

Duke: The Blue Devils had only one player who could have potentially left early: safety Jeremy Cash. When he announced he would return to school, there must have been a huge sigh of relief. Not only does the Duke secondary now return all its starters, it returns its best player. Cash had 111 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles this past season. With linebacker Kelby Brown (ACL) expected healthy for 2015, Duke potentially has two of the best defensive players in the ACC.

Notre Dame: So the Irish have only one toe in the ACC football waters, but they did end up a huge winner, and that is something teams with Notre Dame on the 2015 schedule need to know. All underclassmen who could have returned did: defensive lineman Sheldon Day, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, center/guard Nick Martin and quarterback Everett Golson (at least for now). Stanley was the biggest surprise because some had projected him as a first-round pick on a few early mock drafts. While Golson's status remains unclear, getting Day, Stanley and Martin back means expectations will again be high in South Bend, Indiana.

Losers

Florida State: The Seminoles might be the biggest draft-deadline loser in the country, with five players turning pro early this year: quarterback Jameis Winston, cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. Of that group, Winston and Goldman are listed on the first Mel Kiper Jr. mock draft. Losing players to the draft is nothing new for the Seminoles, but they have taken heavy losses from their underclassmen in the past three years: 12 in all. Add to that losses from a terrific senior group, including Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary and Karlos Williams, and 2015 might end up being a bit of a rebuilding year for the Seminoles as they get a boatload of young guys ready to play. On the bright side, kicker Roberto Aguayo and linebacker Terrance Smith announced they would return to school.

Louisville: Many expected safety Gerod Holliman to leave after he tied an NCAA record with 14 interceptions, despite some questions about his pro potential. But losing defensive backs Charles Gaines and James Sample has to be a blow the Cardinals were not quite expecting. Louisville, which ranked No. 5 in the nation in pass efficiency defense, must now replace five of its top six defensive backs in 2015. Put another way, Louisville is losing players responsible for 21 of the 26 interceptions it had last season.

Miami: While we all expected running back Duke Johnson to leave, losing him is still tough for a Miami offense that revolved heavily around him in the past three seasons. Johnson leaves as the school's all-time career all-purpose yards and rushing yards leader. Add the departure of offensive tackle Ereck Flowers and now Miami has to replace its two best underclassmen, plus top seniors Clive Walford and Denzel Perryman.
Now that the first year in the College Football Playoff is over, we know exactly what to make of nonconference schedules and their role during evaluations.

They are important. Just ask Baylor.

Of course, nonconference schedules tend to look one way before the season starts and then another when the season ends. Florida State had two Power-5 schools on the docket plus Notre Dame in 2014, but nobody regarded its schedule as particularly tough because those three teams fizzled.

With that in mind, let's take a quick peek at the top three potential playoff contenders in 2015 and what we think could end up being good nonconference slates. Included are 2014 records in parentheses.

Best shape

Georgia Tech: Alcorn State*, Tulane (3-9), at Notre Dame (8-5), Georgia (10-3)
Clemson: Wofford*, Appalachian State (7-5), Notre Dame (8-5), at South Carolina (7-6)

Great news here, considering we expect both teams to start the season as preseason Top 25 teams. If voters are truly paying attention, both will start in the top 15. It is always beneficial to have a well-respected SEC opponent on the schedule, as these two do every year with their in-state rival. Both must face Notre Dame. Let's just say this as nicely as possible: The ACC needs Notre Dame to be better this year. Badly.

Nothing to write home about

Florida State: Texas State (7-5), USF (4-8), Chattanooga*, at Florida (7-5)

You thought Florida State was lampooned for its nonconference schedule in 2014? That one looks like a gantlet featuring Oregon, Ohio State and Alabama compared to this one. If the Seminoles go unbeaten, they should still be in position to make the playoff, but they will come under serious scrutiny for their schedule, even if Florida is better. If they struggle against any of these teams and look suspect vs. ACC competition the way they did this year, well, that might be enough for committee members to consider picking another qualified team.

Now let's take a look at some potential darkhorse playoff contenders

Good shape

Virginia Tech: Ohio State (14-1), Furman*, at Purdue (3-9), at East Carolina (8-5)
Louisville: vs. Auburn (8-5), Houston (8-5), Samford*, at Kentucky (5-7)

We are going out on a very, very long limb here with Virginia Tech included as a potential playoff contender. But expectations in Blacksburg are growing, so ours will, too. In actuality, both teams' playoff fortunes will be decided in their respective openers. Louisville faces Auburn in Atlanta on Sept. 5, while the Hokies take on the defending national champion Buckeyes at home on Labor Day night. If they come away with upsets for the second straight year, their playoff chances would go soaring -- but only if they win the remainder of their games. If they lose, hard to see either making it with one loss. Also in their favor: Both schedules features two Power-5 teams plus solid teams from the American.

Help!

Duke: at Tulane (3-9), NC Central*, Northwestern (5-7), at Army (4-8)

At least the Blue Devils have one Power-5 school on the schedule, though it happens to be one of just three Big Ten teams that failed to make a bowl game in 2014. Perhaps the Wildcats will be better in 2015. In either case, Duke will face an uphill climb given the blase schedule. Add in the ACC Coastal slate and no Top 25 teams from the Atlantic, and the schedule will be viewed as weak. Again.

Now let's take a look at everybody else. Who knows, maybe one of these teams will emerge as the surprise of 2015.

Best of the rest

Virginia: at UCLA (10-3), William & Mary*, Notre Dame (8-5), Boise State (12-2)

Once again, the Hoos have the toughest schedule in the ACC, the only team to face two nonconference opponents with 10 or more wins in 2014. Really tough to hand a team in desperate need of momentum backbreaking schedules year after year after year. The way to handle it? Schedule the way Florida State or NC State did, at least for one year to build some confidence and a few more wins. Don't get me wrong. Playing good teams is important. I love it when teams upgrade their schedules. But at what expense? You have to be at the right place in your program to do it.

Ol' college try

Pitt: Youngstown State*, at Akron (5-7), at Iowa (7-6), Notre Dame (8-5)
Miami: Bethune-Cookman*, at FAU (3-9), Nebraska (9-4), at Cincinnati (9-4)
Boston College: Northern Illinois (11-3), New Mexico St (2-10), Notre Dame (8-5), Maine*

Decent schedules here for all three teams, featuring at least one Power-5 opponent. Northern Illinois and Cincinnati are two of the better Group of 5 teams so these schedules do remain challenging.

You take the good, you take the bad ...

Syracuse: Rhode Island*, Central Michigan (7-6), LSU (8-5), at USF (4-8)
Wake Forest: Elon*, at Army (4-8), Indiana (4-8), at Notre Dame (8-5)
North Carolina: vs. South Carolina (7-6), North Carolina A&T*, Illinois (6-7), Delaware*

One Power-5 for each and then a whole lotta nothin.' If North Carolina can get its act together and potentially make a run, it will be interesting to see how the committee handles a team with two FCS opponents.

Thanks for playing

NC State: Troy (3-9), at Old Dominion (6-6), at South Alabama (6-7), Eastern Kentucky*

The Wolfpack are the only team without a Power-5 school on the schedule. The ACC rule that mandates at least one Power-5 nonconference team on the docket starts in 2017. Schedule upgrades are coming soon in the way of Notre Dame (2016, 2017), West Virginia (2018, 2019) and Mississippi State (2020, 2021). But for now, if NC State does not go 4-0 against this slate something is seriously wrong.

*= FCS

ACC morning links

January, 15, 2015
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Florida State said goodbye to one more underclassman Wednesday, as defensive lineman Eddie Goldman announced that he is entering the NFL draft.

Goldman is the fifth Seminoles player to declare early for the pros, joining quarterback Jameis Winston, cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. The junior Goldman really burst onto the national scene this year, especially in the Sept. 20 win over Clemson. He finished the season with 35 tackles, eight tackles for loss and four sacks, which led the team.

"Eddie was a tremendous leader, student-athlete and, most importantly, a tremendous person for FSU," coach Jimbo Fisher said in a release. "I can't thank him enough for his contributions over the last three years on the field and for his leadership by example. I expect Eddie to have a tremendous professional career and I'm very excited for him and his family."

Fisher has recruited so well in recent years that the cupboard will be far from bare for the Noles in 2015. And it wasn't all bad news for the program in this young offseason, as linebacker Terrance Smith and kicker Roberto Aguayo both announced their intentions to return next season. But as our Andrea Adelson notes, FSU has now had 13 players turn pro in the last three years. With so many key pieces once again departing from a group that helped contribute to a 29-game winning streak, three ACC titles, one national title and a College Football Playoff berth, this really does seem like the end of an era in Tallahassee. Fortunately for the Noles, the talent is there to start a new run.

Here are the rest of your ACC Thursday links:

ACC morning links

January, 14, 2015
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Virginia Tech announced some changes Tuesday to a pair of its future Big Ten series, while adding another home-and-home from that league to its schedule as well.

The Hokies will play Rutgers in 2023 and 2024. They will play at Rutgers on Sept. 16, 2023 and host the Scarlet Knights on Sept. 21, 2024.

Virginia Tech also moved its home-and-home with Penn State to 2020 and 2025, along with moving its home-and-home with Wisconsin to 2024 and 2025.

The Hokies will host the Nittany Lions on Sept. 12, 2020 and play at Penn State on Sept. 6, 2025. They will play at Wisconsin on Sept. 14, 2024 before hosting the Badgers on Sept. 13, 2025.

The addition of Virginia Tech's Nov. 2, 2019 trip to Notre Dame forced the move of both the Penn State and Wisconsin series, as the Hokies would have had just five home games in 2019.

"Our goal is to have at least six home games every year," Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock said in a release. "So we needed to do some rearranging to make this happen, and both athletics departments at Wisconsin and Penn State were gracious enough to work with us."

The Hokies' games with Penn State were originally scheduled for Sept. 17, 2022 (in Blacksburg) and Sept. 16, 2023 (State College). Their games with Wisconsin were originally scheduled for Sept. 14, 2019 (in Madison) and Sept. 12, 2020 (in Blacksburg).

We now pause to applaud Virginia Tech here for its aggressive nonconference scheduling. In addition to these Big Ten games, the Hokies also have dates lined up with Ohio State (next season) and Michigan (2020-21). They play Tennessee in 2016 at Bristol Motor Speedway and West Virginia in 2017 in Landover, Maryland, and again in 2021-22.

They also play Purdue (2015, 2023) and East Carolina (2015-2020).

"I am very pleased with our future scheduling," Babcock said in the release. "Jim Weaver, Coach [Frank] Beamer and John Ballein were ahead of their time on advance scheduling and strength of schedule, which is so important in the new playoff structure. It's nice to be the recipient of their proactive efforts and our fans and players will ultimately be the beneficiaries. We want to be the best and play the best. We want to bring marquee games to Lane Stadium. This schedule sets up very nicely for us over the next decade. We may make some slight tweaks, but, in general, we are set for the next 10 years."

Here are the rest of your ACC Wednesday links:

Final 2014 ACC Power Rankings

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
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» More Final 2014 Power Rankings: Top 25 | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

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